Closing my eyes, I used the air element and pictured the flames moving up in a steady stream and then spreading like a ceiling of fire. Aiden could get the fire into the sky, but not as quickly and at the magnitude he could with my help.
“That’s it,” Aiden said, his skin hot under my fingers.
I opened my eyes. For a moment, I was awed. Using the elements was still new to me. Fire, a vibrant shade of blood-red, pulsed over Aiden’s hand and exploded outward in a massive ball. Wind blew my hair back from my face as the inferno licked into the air, rolling toward the wall and back to the campus, consuming the birds in its path. The blaze wasn’t natural, but a product of the aether that Aiden carried inside him. It ate the crows up, leaving nothing by a fine sprinkling of dust behind.
When most of the birds were destroyed and only a few were left to dive-bomb us, Aiden closed his hands into fists and I let go of his wrists. Only then did I see the faintly glowing glyphs on my hands. No one but Seth could see them, but they still made me feel a little weird when they came out to say hello.
“That was so Resident Evil,” said Luke, his eyes wide. “Awesome.”
I cracked a grin, a little breathless. “It was kind of Alice awesome, wasn’t it?”
Luke started to nod but stilled when a Guard flew past us, arms flailing as he tried to get one of the remaining birds off his back. He frowned. “I’ll never look at a bird the same way again.”
Shooting him a look, Aiden stepped forward, snatching what I guessed was a hawk off the back of the yelping Guard. The hawk twisted in his grasp, and I got a good look at its face. The thing’s eyes were all black—no pupils or irises, just like a daimon’s.
I turned away from the sickening crack that followed. Once the animals were that far under the control of a daimon or god, there was just no undoing it.
Several Sentinels staggered to their feet, battered and cut, but no one had gotten it as bad as the two who’d been by the burnt-out cars on the access road and were most likely blindsided by the birds.
A shiver snaked its way down my spine, and my hands automatically went to the daggers on my thighs. Tiny hairs rose on my body. All around me, halfs and pures reacted to the peculiar tension seeping into our skin. My glyphs swirled, changing patterns and forming new ones.
“They’re coming!” yelled a Guard near the top of the wall. His white robes flapped like wings in the wind.
I was kind of expecting a griffon to come out of nowhere, but that’s not what slammed into the iron gate with enough force that it rattled the massive structure and split open the skin of the assailant.
It was a daimon.
Face as white as the Guards’ robes and veins as thick as black snakes, the daimon backed up and charged the gate again.
Wiping blood off her hand, Olivia shook her head. “What is it doing?”
“Other than rearranging its face?” I flinched as it slammed the gate once more. “Maybe it’s really hungry.”
Daimons were pure-bloods that had become addicted to the aether in the blood of pures, and only within the last year we’d learned they could also turn halfs. They were what originated the whole vampire myth without the hotness. It started eons ago—something Dionysus had done, most likely when he’d been bored.
Most of our problems stemmed from the gods’ boredom.
Another daimon joined in, then another, and another. Each time they whacked into the gate, I flinched. Their exposed flesh was mangled and bloody.
Solos was at the gate, able to pick off two of them by shoving daggers through the gaps. Daimons were highly allergic to titanium. It cut through their flesh as though it were water. They burst into shimmering blue clouds, one after another, but more joined in, bouncing off the gate. My gaze went to the sides. The hinges were weakening.
I moved, seeing dozens and dozens of daimons behind the ones at the gate. Aiden summoned fire, catching several of them ablaze, but they kept coming at the gate until the fire consumed them.
This was so not good.
But a frightening realization occurred. When I’d been all Team Seth after I’d Awakened, I’d learned he and Lucian were working with daimons, feeding the monsters pures who weren’t siding with them. The daimons could be here because of Ares, or they could be here because Seth was coming. Either way, it was unlikely that this many would just show up in the middle of nowhere, like it had been during the Council meeting in the Catskills.
“We have to do something.” Luke unhooked his daggers, eyes narrowing as he turned to me. “Can you do your Apollyon thing? Like you did with the automatons?”
Figuring I should do the same as Luke, I unsheathed my daggers. My hands shook, and I hoped no one noticed. “I can’t promise I won’t take the gate out in the process. Maybe if I could get outside, slip up behind them.”
“Not happening.” Aiden stalked forward. “They’d be on you in seconds.”
With all the aether in my veins, it would be like ringing the dinner bell, but if I did get out there, I could do something. I could end this before it got out of hand. My mouth stayed closed, though, which was so unlike me that I wasn’t sure I was me anymore. A week ago, I would’ve been scaling those damn walls.
Sentinels don’t show fear.
All I knew right then was fear.
More slammed into the gate, causing the center to bulge dangerously.
“Open the gate!” shouted Aiden, grabbing a shoulder of a Guard. “If they break the gate, then we will have an open wound to protect.”
“That’s insane!” argued the Guard. “If they get past us—”
“They won’t get past us. Have half of us form a line several yards back,” Aiden ordered. “The rest of us will stay here.”
Luke shook his head and muttered, “That would be the oh-shit line.”
Beside him, Olivia snorted. Her fingers opened and closed around the handles of the daggers. “You know, this isn’t too bad.”
“It’s not?” I asked.
She shook her head. “This could’ve happened during the funerals.”
The gate rattled like dry, angry bones once more, and then the Guard sprang into action, shouting orders. Letting the daimons in sounded crazy, but Aiden was right. Even if we stopped this attack, we would be vulnerable with a giant hole where the gate should’ve been.
Half the Sentinels and all the Guards moved back, forming the ohshit line. Olivia and Luke remained by the gate, ready for battle. I forced my lungs to inflate as two Sentinels volunteered for the near-suicidal mission of opening the gate.
Aiden stalked to my side, lowering his head and speaking low enough for only me to hear. “This is about to get crazy. I know you don’t want to hear this, but you should go back to the common area. Find your uncle and—”
“I can do this,” I said, and then repeated it in my head about five times. “And you guys need my help. I can do my Apollyon mojo without worrying about the gate.”
His eyes turned into a dark, tumultuous gray. “Alex, I really—”
“Too late,” I interrupted as the Sentinels threw open the gates.
Aiden whirled, and before I could take another breath, the daimons were inside the gate, swallowing the two Sentinels in a massive wave. He cursed and glanced back at me. I didn’t need him distracted. Daimons couldn’t kill me, but they could kill him.
“I’m okay.” I tightened my grasp on the blades. “Go do your thing.”
He appeared to want to protest more, but there really was no time. Dipping down at the last possible second, he caught a daimon in the stomach with his shoulder. The force of the blow flipped the daimon over onto his back. Aiden spun, thrusting the dagger deep into the daimon’s chest. Within seconds, it was nothing more than a shimmery pile of dust. Aiden whirled, shoulders taut and mouth pressed into a slash of a line. He took out another daimon and then another. If Leon/Apollo had been here, they would have been keeping count.
I turned at the sound of pounding feet. A daimon was gunning for me, eyes as black as midnight oil and skin leeched of color. My muscles tensed the way they did in the seconds before engaging in battle, but it was different this time. They locked up completely. My mouth dried. My heart went straight into cardiac territory. It was like when I’d seen my mom in that alley back on the island. I was immobile.
You can’t fight. You can’t do this anymore. You’re broken.
My internal voice was such a shit-stirrer. I was frozen. Around me, the sounds of metal clattering and grunts of those fighting amplified until it was all I heard.
The daimon drew to a halt, sniffing the air, and then its mouth dropped open, revealing a row of shark-like teeth. It howled.
My mind…something was wrong with it. I knew it was a daimon before me, and I knew I didn’t even have to use my daggers. I could use fire or wind. I could tap into akasha, the fifth and final power that only that gods and the Apollyon could wield, but I didn’t see the daimon. In its place, I saw one pissed off, seven-foot god. I saw Ares.
My breath burst from me in short pants. I took a step back, swallowing down the rise of bile. “No.”
The daimon slammed into me, knocking me flat onto my back. The daggers flew from my hands, skidding along the dry dirt, kicking up plumes of dust.
“I gave you the easy way out,” Ares said, digging his fingers into my shoulders. “But you chose this, and everyone you love will die because of it.”
Someone shouted my name, and the image of Ares blurred around the edges. Ropey black veins bled through in his cheeks. Jagged teeth appeared behind a cruel mouth. A powerful shudder worked its way down my body, and the glyphs on my skin started to go crazy, like there was a god…
A flash of white light blinded me, and then the daimon exploded into cloud of blue dust. A silver arrow plopped down on my chest.
“What the…?” I picked it up, squeaking as it stung my fingers.
“I’ll be needing that,” came a soft, musical voice I’d heard only once before. The arrow was plucked from my fingers. “Thank you!”
I looked up and discovered why my glyphs were doing a cracked-out version of the electric slide on my skin.
Decked out in her bubble-gum-pink camo, she stood above me, silver bow propped against a shapely hip. Her red hair was pulled up in a ponytail, but the long, curly mass fell to her waist. Static crackled from her all-white eyes. “Are you trying to get a tan?”
Sort of stupefied by her appearance, I pushed myself to my feet.
“What are you doing here? Is Apollo—?”
“My brother is currently getting chained to some rock by our father because of Ares.” She loaded another arrow. “Zeus is mighty upset, and of course is blaming Apollo for the mess. Like how was he supposed to know what Ares was up to?” She let go of the arrow, and it zinged past my head. A fleshy grunt told me she had hit her mark. “It’s not our fault Ares got hit with the crazy stick about a hundred times.”
Another arrow flew from her nimble fingers. This time it blew past my head, and I was pretty sure I was centimeters from having my ear pierced.